CINCINNATI - U.S. Sen. Rand Paul blended his message of libertarian-fueled privacy policies with civil rights-inspired criminal justice reforms during a speech Friday to the National Urban League's annual convention in this presidential battleground state.
The Kentucky Republican announced he would introduce legislation on Friday that would end the federal sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine, part of a series of bills Paul has authored in the past two months designed to correct the racial imbalance of the nation's criminal justice system.
And he continued his criticism of the federal government's domestic spying program, telling the mostly black audience that "those who have known injustice should be at the vanguard of the fight to protect all of our civil liberties."
"Whether you are a minority because of color of your skin or by virtue of your political or religious persuasion, it is imperative that we restrain the power of the majority," he said. "Dr. King's 'I have a Dream' speech inspired the world but it also prompted the FBI to tap his phone illegally and spy on tens of thousands of Americans."
Paul, a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, has been wooing minority voters with tough talk on reforming the nation's drug and sentencing laws.
In the past two months, he has introduced bills that would downgrade some felonies to misdemeanors, eliminate mandatory minimum sentences, restore the voting rights to some convicted felons and make it easier for people to expunge their criminal records. His latest bill would give the same sentence for crack cocaine offenses and powder cocaine crimes. The majority of people arrested for crack cocaine offenses are African-Americans.
"Anyone who thinks race does not still, even if inadvertently, skew the application of criminal justice is just not paying close attention," Paul said.
That injustice, Paul said, has affected voting rights. He said 5 million people nationwide are prevented from voting because they have a criminal record, which is why he has pushed for state and federal legislation that would restore the voting rights of some convicted felons.
But Paul does support various state laws that have popped up across the country requiring voters to show a photo ID at the polls, laws that have been condemned by civil rights groups, including the National Urban League, as disenfranchising some black voters who don't have an ID and can't get one.